Sacred Texts Misc. Chinese Texts Taoism


  Back in the depths of ancient time;
  Remote, before the Tis began;
  Four equal sides defined the earth,
  And pillars eight the heaven sustained.
  All living things in classes came,
  The valleys wide, and mighty streams.
  The Perfect Tao, with movement wise,
  Unseen, Its work did naturally.
  Its power the elements all felt;
  The incipient germs of things appeared.
  Shepherd and Lord established were,
  And in their hands the ivory bonds.1
  The Tis must blush before the Hwangs;2
  The Wangs must blush before the Tis.2
  More distant grew Tao's highest gifts,
  And simple ways more rare became.
  The still placidity was gone,
  And all the old harmonious ways
  Men talents prized and varnished wit;
  The laws displayed proved but a net.
  Wine-cups and stands the board adorned,
  And shields and spears the country filled.
  The close-meshed nets the fishes scared:
  And numerous bows the birds alarmed.
  Then did the True Man3 get his birth,
  As 'neath the Bear the star shone down.
  All dragon gifts his person graced;
  Like the stork's plumage was his hair.
 The complicated he resolved, the sharp made blunt,
 The mean rejected, and the generous chose;
  In brightness like the sun and moon,
  And lasting as the heaven and earth.
  Small to him seemed the mountains five,
  And narrow seemed the regions nine;
  About he went with lofty tread,
  And in short time he rambled far.
  In carriage by black oxen drawn,4
  Around the purple air was bright.
 Grottoes then oped to him their somber gates,
 And thence, unseen, his spirit power flowed forth.
  The village near the stream of Ko
  Traces of him will still retain;5
  But now, as in the days of old,
  With changèd times the world is changed.
  His stately temple fell to ruin;
  His altar empty was and still;
  By the nine wells dryandras grew,6
 And the twin tablets were but heaps of stone.
  But when our emperor was called to rule,
  All spirit-like and sage was he.
  Earth's bells reverberated loud,
  And light fell on the heavenly mirror down.
  The universe in brightness shone,
  And portents all were swept away;
  All souls, or bright or dark, revered,
 And spirits came to take from him their law.
 From desert sands7 and where the great trees grow,
 From phœnix caves, and from the dragon woods,
  All different creatures came sincere;
  Men of all regions gave their hearts to him.
  Their largest vessels brought their gifts,
  And kings their rarest things described;
 Black clouds a thousand notes set forth;
 And in the fragrant winds were citherns heard.
Through his transforming power, the tripods were made sure;
And families became polite and courteous.
Ever kept he in mind the sage beneath the Pillar,8
Still emulous of the sovereigns most ancient.
So has he built this pure temple,
And planned its stately structure;
Pleasant, with hills and meadows around,
And lofty pavilion with its distant prospect.
Its beams are of plum-tree, its ridge-pole of cassia;
A balustrade winds round it; many are its pillars;
About them spreads and rolls the fragrant smoke;9
Cool and pure are the breezes and mists.
The Immortal officers come to their places;10
The Plumaged guests are found in its court,10
Numerous and at their ease,
They send down blessing, bright and efficacious.
Most spirit-like, unfathomable,
Tao's principles abide, with their symbolism attached.11
Loud is Its note, but never sound emits,
Yet always it awakes the highest echoes.
From far and near men praise It;
In the shades, and in the realms of light, they look up for Its aid;
Reverently have we graven and gilt this stone
And made our lasting proclamation thereby to heaven and earth.

Sacred Texts Misc. Chinese Texts Taoism


1 "Bonds" with written characters on them superseded the "knotted cords" of the primitive age. That the material of the bonds should be, as here represented, slips of ivory, would seem to anticipate the progress of society.

2 The Hwangs preceded the Tis in the Taoistic genesis of history; and as being more simple were Taoistically superior to them; so it was with the Tis and the Wangs or Kings.

3 This of course was Lao-Tze.

4 So it was, according to the story, that Lao-Tze drew near to the barrier gate, when he wished to leave China.

5 The Ko is a river flowing from Ho-nan into An-hui, and falling into the Hwai, not far from the district city of Hwai-yuan.

6 The nine wells, or bubbling springs, near the village where Lao was born, are mentioned by various writers; but I fail to see how the growth of the trees about them indicated the ruin of his temple.

7 The "desert sands" were, no doubt, what we call "the desert of Gobi." The trees referred to were "in the extreme East."

8 "The sage beneath the Pillar" must be Lao-Tze.

9 "The smoke," I suppose, "of the incense, and from the offerings."

10 Taoist monks are called "Plumaged or Feathered Scholars," from the idea that by their discipline and pills they can emancipate themselves from the trammels of the material body, and ascend (fly up) to heaven. Arrived there, as Immortals or Hsien, it further appears they were constituted into a hierarchy or society, of which some of them were "officers," higher in rank than others.

11 An allusion to the text of the hexagrams of the Yi King, where the explanations of them by King Wan — his thwan, are followed by the symbolism of their different lines by the duke of Chau — his hsiang.